***Part Twelve***

Once assured Christine was indeed asleep Erik left the room. His intention was to return to the main room and work once more on his score. The music and lyrics both were flowing freely through his mind, so freely that he could barely stand to shut his eyes for fear that he'd miss something. But instead he extinguished all the candles and lamps, leaving one on that lighted the way to Andre's bedroom and returned to Christine's room.

She had told him she loved him, not of her own free will and it wasn't a boisterous declaration. But she had said it nonetheless. He hadn't been overly sure since Andre's birth just how she would feel if he came to her. Not that he would come to her expecting lovemaking so soon after she had given birth. He did still long to hold her, though.

There were nights when Erik knew she needed him, even while she slept. She never spoke of her dreams, never explained the reasons behind her restlessness some nights. Erik suspected her father's death and years of having no one to count on but herself played into it. He knew that a long time of having to watch how much she spent, how much she ate and how much coal she used to heat her home had left her afraid.

She had been sleeping better as far as Erik could tell, aside from her sleep being disturbed by Andre and his needs. But still tonight he was drawn to her. Almost five weeks he had refrained from sleeping with her and even longer since he'd touched her in an intimate way. That was in truth part of the reason he stayed away now. Not that he was insatiable, that wasn't it, but he had grown accustomed to being able to when the need to presented itself. He wasn't so sure in sleep he wouldn't do something foolish.

Not one to need much sleep himself, Erik found himself drifting off to sleep anyway. The soothing sound of her sleep laced breathing lulled him to sleep quickly.

Christine stirred clutching the bed's sheet in her tiny hand. Her lack of good sleep these past few weeks wasn't entirely due to Andre. She had missed Erik dreadfully. During the past few months whenever she had woken from a bad dream or been frightened by an unfamiliar sound always Erik was there to comfort her. She could turn to him, bury her head in his chest and shake with or without tears and he let her take solace in him. It was as if his arms granted her sanctuary from her troubles, for in his arms nothing seemed as bad as she originally thought. She called out Erik's name in her sleep induced state, not realizing that she was in fact clutching the front of his nightshirt not the bed sheet.

"I'm here, Christine," he said softly, his hand caressing her hair and cheek lightly.

Her breathing calmed and her hold on his shirt front loosened slightly. Gone was the panic she had felt at the thought of being alone. Her hand moved from his chest. She caressed him gently through his shirt, reaching for his neck. If she heard his soft moan in response to her touch, there was no indication of it. Her caress grew bolder as she reached to bring him toward her.

Erik knew he should wake her, she was obviously unaware of what she was doing. She had touched him of her own accord before this. It hadn't been like this though. This was bold and sensual in nature and very unlike Christine. It made him wonder just what she was dreaming or thinking about at the moment.

Then she was kissing him, light, butterfly like kisses against his face, mouth, chin and, "oh God," he muttered, even his neck. He tilted his head back slightly, allowing her to kiss his neck better.

"Take off your mask," she whispered.

Erik's head moved forward quickly, surprised by her request. "What?"

She looked up at him. "Take off your mask."

He hesitated.

"Please, Erik. You never take it off. I've never really felt you kissing me."

He did so begrudgingly, not sure just how she wanted him to kiss her. He had kissed her before, many times. He thought, too, he'd done a reasonably good job of it. At least his kisses had seemed to do the job they were supposed to do.

"Thank you," she whispered softly and with only the briefest hesitation kissed his cheek and then his jaw.

"Christine, you don't have to do that," he whispered.

"I do," she maintained. "How can I claim to love you if I make you keep the mask on all the time?"

"You don't make me, Christine. I wear it willingly."

"But you shouldn't have to, not in your house," she said softly almost timidly.

"But," he started to protest further but he was prevented from speaking further by her kiss. His hands went around her waist, still so tiny even after bearing his child. It had been weeks since they'd kissed like this, and it had always been at his instigation not hers.

"I've missed you," she said softly, placing her cheek against his mouth. "I kept waiting for you to come to me again, but morning after morning I'd wake up alone."

"I'm sorry," he whispered kissing her cheek. As she moved her head, he kissed a new place until he was kissing her jaw and her neck. He nibbled lightly there, which she seemed to like and so he continued.

"You're here now. Just please don't leave me alone at night again."

"I won't," he promised. He assumed their kissing was through when he felt her sit up. His hands slid away from her waist to each hip. He was about to ask what she was doing when he felt the thin material of her shift pull away from underneath his hands. "Christine," he said questioningly.

She placed a fingertip over his lips after setting her shift aside. "You've done so much for me, Erik. Please let me do this."

Unable to deny the fact her being assertive was arousing as hell he was wondering if he should just shut up and let her do what she seemed hell bent on doing. "You don't owe me anything, Christine. Certainly not this," he demanded.

She placed her mouth over his, her hands moving to either side of his face as she moved to straddle him. He could feel her lower herself to him, could feel her hesitate. Should they even be doing this? He didn't know and he imagined she would know better than he if she was able. "If it hurts you, Christine, please stop," he said the closest he was going to get at this point to telling her to stop.

He was grateful for his keen vision, because even in the dark room he was able to look upon her and see her as she moved. She was so beautiful like that, so timid and unsure of herself but she seemed to need to do this. He certainly wasn't of the mind to argue with her, not now at any rate.

He wasn't sure she realized he was able to see her as clearly as he could, which for once he was glad. It left him able to watch her. Never before had he been able to look at her like this, until tonight he had always been the initiator. He had always been atop of her and had sensed she did not want him looking upon her. It had been difficult for him to do, but he had until tonight abided by those unspoken wishes.

Despite their physical intimacy, she still bathed out of his view and rarely was he allowed to view her when she wasn't fully dressed. Now that Andre was born, she had been less adamant about that as it was impractical to dress fully every time a baby woke up during the night.

But surely with her initiating this and not just initiating it but moving atop him instead of simply suggesting she wanted him in this way as they normally went about it he had the right to look. Her abdomen was flat once again and luckily there were no unbecoming marks from her having carried Andre for those nine months.

Not that the marks would have bothered him any, but he knew once she went back to the Opera she would have someone aiding her in dressing each night. She would not have wanted physical evidence of the baby, proof of her lie. Proof of the life of sin he had unintentionally forced her into living.

Her breasts were fuller, effects of having to nurse Andre herself. He reached to touch her there, he had before but never in this way. His touch had always been brief, as he sensed she wanted it to be. Enough to bring about her body being ready for him, but rarely beyond that. And he always felt guilty about that, that she saw this act as a duty.

Tonight she didn't seem to have this opinion of the act and he took advantage of her seeming willingness to look at and touch her like he'd wanted to do over the past few months. By her body's reaction and that of her verbal reaction to his touch, she seemed to like it too.

He only hoped later, when this was finished, that she did not regret what she had done. He hoped, too, that tonight would not be the only night she was bold enough to do this. He sensed, though, that he would not be so lucky. She was doing this out of some sense of need, and he wasn't sure that need would happen again. But despite knowing it wasn't desire or want that was driving her, Erik couldn't help but enjoy it.

Her hands touched his face, all of it, and he kept waiting for her to realize just what she was touching and pull away. But she didn't and he groaned softly in response, unable to stop himself. The love and acceptance he had craved for years she was, knowingly or not, giving him this night. A night that started with a simple request of him removing his mask, a request that had he allowed it to could have turned into an argument rather than this. If he believed in Christine's God, he'd be thanking him right now for giving him the strength and the insight not to argue.

One thing about their lovemaking Erik could take pride in was that he had obtained enough learning knowledge to know that a woman could obtain pleasure just as a man could. He had never been selfish with Christine, other than perhaps their first night together not quite a year ago now. Tonight was no exception, though the physical aspect of bringing about her pleasure was a little different. He wondered if before tonight she had realized exactly what he did to aid in this sought after release. If she didn't, she did now. Being on top of him, there was no mistaking how he went about assisting her in this.

She remained laying on top of him, clutching to him as if her life depended on his remaining there with her. He was overcome by her neediness. Did she think he was leaving her? Was that what tonight was for? An attempt to prevent him from leaving. He had no plans on leaving her, but perhaps some of his thoughts when he had been tapping into her thoughts had been conveyed to her unwittingly. He hoped that wasn't the case.

"Are you all right," he asked his voice gruffer than he intended it on being. He was still in shock over what had just happened. Well more than an hour had passed from when she first started kissing him.

"I'm fine, Erik. Thank you."

"For what," he couldn't help but laugh lightly at that. "I should be thanking you."

"No, you shouldn't be, you deserve so much more than what I'm able to give you," she said softly her head still buried against his bare chest. "I meant for taking off your mask for me. I know you don't like to."

"I don't mind so much when the request is made by you, Christine." His long, thin fingers made their way through the heavy curtain that was her hair draping across his shoulders and upper arms. He would never tire of touching her like this. He could forego the actual act of making love entirely if they could retain this closeness that came after it. Tonight, though, was different than normal.

"I know, but I try not to. I just wanted to see you."

He swallowed hard. She could see him? "Why," he asked hoarsely not sure he wanted to hear the answer.

"I wanted to know if you disapproved."

"And you think my mask could hide that?"

"Yes. I knew with it off you would feel sort of vulnerable and be more apt to reveal your disapproval if you felt it."

"I don't. I not only approve but you've made me very happy."

"I'm glad," she said simply. "You won't expect it of me often, will you?"

Erik laughed heartily. "No. If you didn't like it, don't do it again."

"It's not that I didn't like it," she said softly and then paused. "It's just I'm not sure it's right."

"It's only wrong if you feel that it's wrong, Christine. I'm not the person to tell you whether it is or not, only you can do that."

"Thank you," she said softly, kissing his chest.

"Are you ready to go back to sleep then?"

"Yes," she said softly. "I was having the oddest dream. I was reaching for you and you weren't there. So when I woke up and you were here I was so glad."

"Perhaps I should spend a month away from your bed again if that's the welcome back I'll get."

"Don't you dare," she said quickly, lifting her head to look at him.

He smiled widely, the gesture obscured slightly on his face. "I wouldn't dare, no. It was for your benefit I stayed away. I knew you weren't fully healed yet and in my sleep I didn't want to do something foolish."

"I know. I think I just proved to you I'm fine now. So please don't stay away. I don't sleep well without you and now that Andre is sleeping through the night mostly I'd like to sleep again."

"I know," he said feeling on the bed for his mask. He found it and clutched it in his hand before bringing it to his face. How nice it would be to leave it off entirely. He wasn't sure what she'd think about that in the morning, though. So he placed it back over his head, in its rightful place.

"Christine," he said when she'd been quiet for a moment.

"Hmm," she murmured sleepily.

"I love you."

"I love you, too," she murmured.

Erik felt her slight form slide from on top of him so she was now lying beside him. Her head, though, and one of her hands still remained resting on his chest. He liked her on top of him better, but he would take this show of closeness too.

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